After seven days of intolerable confinement, Izzy decided that this foggy afternoon was the right time to free herself. And, if she could manage, Clara.
She had been testing her crippled body since the morning darkness, inundating her extremities with signals to flex, and, with any hard-earned luck, move. Her weak arms appeared up to the task; she guessed her weight to be just shy of one-hundred pounds. Her legs, however, remained stubborn, anchoring her to the bed. For all the training she had subscribed to these counterparts, none was more rigorous, more vital than her breathing regimen.
Izzy's relationship with oxygen had always been of a toxic nature. A university athlete who had relied upon her immaculate lungs for victory, it had been an unreliable ankle that decided ten metres from an important finish line was the time to snap, end her career, sink her into the depths of depression, and enroll her in a new, lifelong sport: smoking. Three packs a day, four when she was feeling particularly good (or bad), for fifty years.
And now the ghosts of cigarettes past were preventing her, in spite of her cooperative arms, from liberating herself, and, more importantly, Clara.
Izzy exhaled a laboured breath, painfully inhaled another. She should have been accustomed to it by now, but the air filtering throughout her sanctuary still tasted as artificial as it smelled. She felt the rather stale intake race through her mouth and nostrils, hoping to reach the pair of black bags that kept her going for no real purpose.
Save for Clara.
The clean dose of oxygen reached her ashen lungs, then exited her mouth and nose in another labored exhalation. Izzy imagined the polluted molecules warning the new wave of respiration about what corruption lay within her.
She looked to her right, locked eyes with the never-blinking Clara, and, with a look that said “Don't you dare move now”—she couldn't risk precious breaths on her roommate's deaf ears—began the arduous journey.
Izzy watched as she willed her right arm across the centimetres that felt like kilometres of bed. The feeble limb made pitiful progress before stopping entirely so she may regain what energy she could.
A surge of anger propelled her arm against the plastic sheet dividing her and Clara. Her hand slid down the thick material until it landed in the crevice between the sheet and edge of the bed. Using this newfound leverage, Izzy began pulling her weight with her right arm, while pushing against the mattress with her left. The juicy idea of giving up had crossed her mind, just as it had when her former severely fit self, besieged by physical and psychological cramps, had desired to slow her run to a crawl at the three-thousand-metre mark. Her conditioned lungs had burned then. Now they were volcanic.
But the agony and certain death would be worth it. Not only for herself, but Clara, who had never felt a pang in her endless life.
Izzy now found herself at a ninety-degree angle: the top half of her body sprawled laterally across the bed; the bottom half remained affixed to where it had been since she embarked upon this suicide mission of sorts. After a quick mental team huddle with her barely-working parts, she used her right hand to push against the plastic sheet. The damn thing was like a wall of concrete. Her reluctant body threatened to pull the plug on the whole operation, but a little bit of that wholesome anger, and a lot of thinking about what would happen to Clara if she failed, helped free the bottom of the plastic sheet from between the mattresses. Izzy exhaled so deeply, the fog outside of her only window found its way to her eyes.
Her vision slowly . . .
. . . slowly . . .
. . . returned.
She felt her old nemesis oxygen assisting her rushing blood to restore her vision. But she knew better; death had brushed past her.
Move it, she urged herself.
Izzy hadn't intended to escape by falling on her head, but as she shimmied herself closer . . . closer . . . closer, then over . . . over . . . over the edge of the bed, it seemed the only way. Her head free of the plastic sheet, the faint aroma of cooking bombarded her olfactory. She couldn't help but sacrifice a valuable breath to take in the recipe she had shared with her daughter long ago. You're using too much garlic powder, she thought, the seasoning burning her sinuses. But that was Isabelle: too much or too little of everything.
Her shoulders hanging over the edge of the bed, thinned blood rushing to her head, Izzy wondered—not for the first time—what Isabelle would think when the time came to trudge upstairs, check on her dying mother, and find her however she ended up. Hopefully, with Clara in my arms, she thought.
She wondered if her daughter would even care.
The pair of Izzy’s had lived a life of few kisses and plenty of bites. Izzy had made the cliche attempts to live via her namesake (Isabelle's ankles were still intact, after all). Her daughter had indeed run; not on the track, but away from home, turning the typical one-off act of rebellion into a quarterly sport. When she was home, Isabelle would blame Izzy for all of her life's unwanted biographic details: the casting out of her father, the selfish act of naming her after herself (never mind the tradition), the reason for her isolating unattractiveness, the asthma and other varieties of respiratory ailments courtesy of her chain-smoking. That her only child had decided to punish her by never marrying, never having children, was not lost on Izzy. Still, when Izzy had become too ill to breathe on her own, it was Isabelle who rushed her to the hospital; and it was Isabelle who brought her home, tucked her into bed, and made sure the oxygen tent kept her alive.
But after seven days of intolerable confinement, seven days of embarrassing baths and changes, seven days of no words exchanged save for begrudged greetings and farewells, Izzy had decided that this foggy afternoon was the right time to free herself. And, if she could manage, Clara.
She could no longer see her only friend, but knew she was right where she had left her. I'm coming, she thought, hoping the suffocating air out here wouldn't render her a liar. Like in the old days, when slower competitors somehow cruised past her, good old-fashioned anger fuelled her cause, and she writhed her dangling body further over the edge of the bed like a fish out of water. A fish that wants out of her damn bowl! she goaded herself, and grew angrier at her handicap. The fingertips on her right hand touched something cold, hard. It took her a moment to realize she had touched the floor. Her left hand, still pushing against the bunched-up comforter, worked alone to send her over the rest of the way.
In the space of seconds, Izzy saw the ceiling, then her abdomen, then her legs, the latter two crashing down on her. Within the same seconds, she had felt emptiness beneath her, then the same cold, hard floor forcing itself into her neck and spine. Precious breaths were knocked out of her, and the fog returned, this time most certainly accompanied by death.
It took her a few moments to realize that death smelled an awful lot like garlic. A few more moments, and Izzy understood she hadn't died . . . and that her daughter wouldn't have heard a thing if she had. She remained alone. On the floor. Alive. For now.
Alive enough to save Clara.
Slowly, surely, Izzy wriggled away from the bed until her dumb legs hit the floor. Still, her daughter remained downstairs, oblivious, or willfully so. But in case obliviousness turned to awareness, Izzy needed to move as quickly as her lame body would allow at this late stage in the race. Last one-hundred metres, she implored.
Since sitting herself up was impossible, she needed to figure out how to get Clara to come down to her level. Could've just grabbed her, and brought her into the tent, she scolded herself, save yourself this stupidity. But she knew it wouldn't have been fair to Clara, to have her lifelong companion go from breathing one brand of plastic air to another. No. She wanted Clara's first breath to be one-hundred-percent, certifiable oxygen . . . even if it was tinged with garlic.
Izzy flexed the fingers on her left hand, expecting to feel a break, akin to that long-ago ankle, that would prevent her from crossing this finish line. Everything felt in working order. Hand shaped like a spider, the fingers crawled along the floor until they found the nightstand's feet. They climbed past the bottom drawer, then the middle, then she stopped, having reached as high as she could go.
She looked at the progress her hand had made, and was angered and disappointed to see the tips of her fingers so close to the top. So close to Clara.
No longer able to uphold itself, her arm fell to the floor for her daughter not to hear. Her shallow, disparate breathing became shallower, more disparate. The retinal fog grew thicker. And she was certain the last time she would see Clara was in the memories she had very limited time to relive:
Sneaking into her late mother's bedroom—this very same bedroom—to sneak a peek at Clara, high on her shelf.
Receiving Clara on the eve of her mother's passing—in this very same bedroom—on the condition that she pass Clara on to her daughter, should she have one, when her own end was near.
Asking Isabelle to take Clara off the shelf, and sit her on the nightstand; the plan to release Clara had been confirmed, all the more so by her daughter's routine sneer and remark: “Ugly thing.” Even had Isabelle loved Clara as much as she had, Izzy felt it her duty to finally free her.
Come on, you useless cigarette-holder. Last fifty metres.
Her nicotine-stained spider-hand rediscovered the nightstand's feet, and, once more, began its ascent.
Past the bottom drawer.
Past the middle drawer.
Past the bottom of the top drawer.
Finding the top drawer's knob . . .
. . . where it hung . . .
. . . unwilling to move.
Her hand sprang back, the drawer with it.
Until the heavy piece abruptly stopped, having reached its limit. The nightstand leaned slightly forward, and Izzy glimpsed her legacy as the dead meat filling of a floor-and-nightstand sandwich. But the nightstand had other plans; before it settled back into place, it made sure to shake free the tall, glossy box.
The impact was painful, a sharp corner hitting her perfectly in the eye, but nothing compared to the torture her lungs were putting her through. Instead of fog, there was rain. Izzy blinked the burning tears away, bringing not the nightstand into focus, but a face.
And what a beautiful face it was. Skin made of meringue. A faint smile on pink lips barely formed. Rosy cheeks forever pinched into dimples. Black eyebrows arching over a pair of unblinking bejewelled eyes. Had they seen Izzy? All the Izzy's? From Grandma Izzy to this sorry-excuse-for-an-Izzy?
They stared at each other for some time, Izzy refusing to blink, like her little friend, lest she slip into death during one of those slivers of blackness. The smell of garlic was fading. She couldn't tell if her daughter was altering the recipe in some way, or if her senses were gradually shutting down.
Last ten metres, she thought. Perhaps her final thought.
Izzy used the left hand that made this final reunion possible to locate the pristine cardboard flap above Clara's head. Not with anger, but love, Izzy tore open the lid that had sealed the doll in her prison for three generations, and watched as Clara took in her first-ever breath of fresh air.
Artisan baker by trade, Alfredo Salvatore Arcilesi has been published in over 60 literary journals worldwide. Winner of the Scribes Valley Short Story Writing Contest, he was also a finalist in the Blood Orange Review Literary Contest, and was awarded the Popular Vote in the Best of Rejected Manuscripts Competition. In addition to several short pieces, he is currently working on his debut novel.
On a cold winter night
I lay in the comfort of soft blankets and cushy pillows
The non-stop titter-tatter against all tangibles
mercilessly broke my hard-earned slumber
Sliding and slithering over and over
Crystalline droplets raced on the glassy tracks
without much caution or trepidation.
The uncoiled skeins of climatic emotions
were desperate to bring glee into doldrums.
I woke up, sat up and stayed up
leaning towards the window pane, listening to their tantrums
All night in silence, eyes closed, ears open
It was a performance that clamoured for attention
from lonely souls and midnight owls.
I wish it came with a volume control
The loud clatter and yellow lights, were acting like partners in crime
brutally stirring up memories of good times
Days that could not be reclaimed
Nights and people that were taken for granted
The happy chemicals I managed to create
were rashly getting washed down the creeks.
I sat there shiftless watching it happen
as the raging tears trickled down.
No amount of righteous downpour
Would ever cleanse my soul or grant an absolution
So I beg for some silence, a little peace
Whispering through the damp chamber,
“Shush please, shush please”.
Tamizh Ponni worked as Design Facilitator in an International School, Bengaluru, India. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Engineering, an MBA in Human Resources, and a Masters in English Literature. She is currently pursuing her M.Tech, PhD integrated course in Data Science. She has worked as a Professional Development Coach and as a Tech Integrationist. Tamizh spends most of her free time painting, reading, writing articles, stories and poems, playing keyboard, and watching documentaries/movies. Tamizh has published her short stories in books Mia and Varna, and has also published poems and artworks on several web magazines.
We landed and he said,
A thief just fled from this room to the sea he
All too tall to steal,
Each of the room’s colors was a proper noun.
Green, greenish; Pink, pink; the studious Blue.
His blue furniture
Lured like the sea--
Fossils partially beached.
Then we got at dinner--slow . . .
Then we sank a bit.
Then dusk up
Laid the floor flat
But the musical chairs will lean us
On the sea.
He ribbons up
A shy treasure sky
With rickety constellations:
Gold bears with drawn
Tacked up as fish.
Here, plaster (it’s cardboard)
Is astral dandruff.
With his head in a cloud--
To oohs and aahs--
And the stars put to bed--
To oohs and aahs--
He just pasted and pasted away.
Jack is a poet and graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. His book Still Lifes is the winner of the 2020 Deena Davidson Friedman prize. His work has recently taken visual art as its subject--painting and photography in particular. He lives in St. Louis and spends most of his time at the museum.
My son is sitting next to me
in a pile of stuffed animals,
stuffys he calls them.
He is showing me his poetry
in a bright colored slide deck.
The poems are mostlysome form of haiku
with themes about nature.
They are coupled with
images of lightning,
or something that looks like it.
He is reading them to me,
for the beauty of nature.
His voice rises and falls,
and I cannot get over
how astonishingly beautiful he is.
The scope of the thing,
escape the bounds of the
They play downstairs,
then in the backyard,
pull the dog around
and make forts.
Then, once in a while
look up, look around,
hear the relative quiet,
almost conceive of the thing
and then go back to running.
Morgan D. Bazilian is a professor of physics and also write poems.
I am well worn, thumbed through, creased at the edges
Always stuck on the same page, always mid-sentence
I can neither avert my eyes, turn thoughts, nor paper
For it is my life’ s work, knowing something of what’s gone before
But no clarity as to what comes next
I live in the now of uncertainty
No future, beyond skittish dreams
My imprint is not a doer, but a fence sitter
Who cannot jump till all the jumbled pieces are boxed
But life is liquid, ebbing and flowing
Formless, seamless, perhaps meaningless
Favouring the page turners who run blindly to the next staging post
Whilst visionaries awaiting the grand vision
Are left wanting - wanting to know
Does God give us patterns?
Glimpses of the eternal to send us on our merry way
Or are we just sleepwalking into nothingness?
Weighty questions, light on answers I fear
For the doomed among us, the poor dogeared
Mark is a professional composer and lyricist, which helps bring rhythm and musicality to his poetry. Lyric writing may pave the way for penning poetry, but Mark is well aware of the key difference; song lyrics are written to be sung. whereas poetry is written to be read. From the UK, Mark lives just outside Brighton and often takes inspiration from this colourful, seaside city. Poetry is a relatively new venture for Mark and with that comes the usual insecurity about whether or not his poems are any good, but publication does wonders for self-doubt.
Velda Wang is a current junior from metro Atlanta. In her own words, she describes her creative process as follows: "I mostly paint landscapes and through my paintings, I hope to evoke either a sense of appreciation for our beautiful home or a sense of urgency how fast it is disappearing because of our destruction. For example, in Barren, I used mostly darker colors like dark green and dark brown to convey the desolate mood, and the brown, murky water symbolizes the waste and filth of our future land, and there are a few trees in the background to show what will happen if we do not take action to protect our ecology."
The little girl and boy were screaming.
Not the bad screaming.
Not Mia's screaming.
Lucretia stood in the outer schoolyard, looking through the fence that separated her from the scene of the crime she had created two months prior. Of all the kids packed into the limited pen designated for kindergarten students, her eyes and ears couldn't help but track the running, laughing--For now, she thought—screaming little girl and boy, engaged in the age-old interplay: the fluttering of the little girl's long hair; the little boy's outstretched hand; the former barely outrunning the latter, whether by choice or biology, laughing, screaming, most times out of exhilaration, sometimes because a primitive thought told her she was in genuine danger; the way the invisibly tethered pair navigated the other children, who were merely sitting ducks oblivious to the fast-paced game of tandem sparrows; the little boy finding a latent gear, accelerating, reaching with a clawed hand, closer, closer, closer; the little girl abruptly turning to avoid his fingers; the chase slowing down--this time—to recover for an encore, or dying altogether, the dangerous game saved for something as distant as another day, or as close as the next recess.
And outside of this customary exchange, outside of this playground within a playground, Lucretia felt relief, for the little girl and boy had yet again successfully avoided recreating the history that had taken place in there.
She and Mia's history.
A history she had forgotten until last week.
Lucretia had looked forward to the first day of school. Her mother had dropped her off at the side of the building, wished her good luck on her first day of school, and drove away to the job that paid their rent. Mia's mother, on the other hand . . . well, if she had work, she had clearly called in sick so as to protect her daughter from Lucretia.
It was in the gymnasium, where the buzzing student body waited to be assigned their new teachers, that Lucretia had felt the summer's sunburns in her gut, the summer's scraped knees all over her body, for she had seen for the first time how and in what condition Mia had spent her summer—thanks to that single moment in June.
Thanks to Lucretia.
The little girl and boy were screaming again.
Not the bad screaming.
Not Mia's screaming.
Not yet, Lucretia thought.
She looked away from the potential violence, and focused on the one obstacle she would need to overcome if now was indeed the time to do what she hadn't any real courage to do. But when the obsidian eyes of Ms. Jackson, perched atop the steps leading to Lucretia's assigned door, met hers, she panicked, resorting to blindly surveying the vast schoolyard available to her.
She knew her new world by heart: the field that was home to two continental versions of football, haloed by quintuplet tracks; faded baseball diamond; fully-loaded play area—just some of the perks of becoming a full-day student in the first grade.
The perks, however, did nothing to perk her up.
Everyone was out here, relishing their twenty minutes outside the stifling classrooms, trying to capture as much of the lingering dog days as possible. Everyone who stole glances of Mia, who never saw, but must have felt the judging eyes. Everyone who gossiped, but pretended otherwise, as if the school was ripe with other Mia's.
Everyone was out here.
Lucretia could bear the Mia-less vista no longer. Heavy guilt shepherded her heavy legs toward Ms. Jackson. She could have claimed to have felt ill—she was, after all, sick with nerves—but opted for a watered-down lie that the hateful teacher would likely deny. “Can I get a drink, Ms. Jackson?” Her voice cracked, supporting her cause.
Ms. Jackson smiled, opened the door, and held it for the stunned Lucretia. She eyed the teacher as she crossed the threshold. The woman indeed appeared to be the same Ms. Jackson who had cradled and cooed the wailing Mia on that day in June; the same Ms. Jackson who glared and yelled at the culpable Lucretia. Doesn't she remember me? Lucretia mused. Doesn't she remember what I did?
The hard handrail felt like a slippery serpent of electric nerves. With legs of quicksand, she began the long ascent. She caught up to her pounding heart upon reaching the second-floor landing. There, the pair of heavy doors guarded against her, protecting whom she sought. But they were no match for a mousy thumb pressing the latch.
The click of the stairwell door did nothing to interrupt the hushed voices wafting over to her from the opposite side of the hallway. While the volume of the conversation rose with every step toward the only open door, specific words refused to clarify themselves. Still, Lucretia discerned two voices: one she knew, but scarcely heard during class; the other could have belonged to either relief or dread, for Mia's mother was prone to classroom visits between the usual drop-offs and pick-ups—which contributed to the list of gossip topics.
Please be Mrs. Atwood, she thought.
Lucretia reached the door, and listened for whether or not she would abort her mission. When her heart, thudding in her ears, skipped a beat, she heard not dread, but relief--Mrs. Atwood!—and turned the corner just as another thought occurred to her: Mia's mother could still be in there, not talking.
Two pairs of eyes looked up at her from their respective desks. One pair looked back down just as quickly. The other pair held her gaze. “Hey, Lucretia.” There was a tinge of surprise in Mrs. Atwood's voice. Surprise turned to concern. “You okay?”
Lucretia knew she looked as disheveled and antsy and nauseous as she felt. “Yeah,” she croaked. “Just . . .” She couldn't lie about needing a drink; she had passed the fountains on her way over.
“Too hot outside?” Mrs. Atwood offered.
“Yeah,” Lucretia exhaled, relieved for the out.
“Well, you can take your seat if you like. Recess is almost over, anyway. Speaking of . . .” Mrs. Atwood rose from her desk. “Girls, I'll be right back. Gotta use the ladies' room.” She turned to the damaged thing at the far end of the second-last row, peeling a tangerine. “We'll talk some more about it later, okay, Mia?”
Lucretia wondered if Mrs. Atwood saw the pain, suffering, and sadness that animated Mia's barely nodding head. She wondered if Mrs. Atwood knew that she was responsible for those emotions. Of course, she does, Lucretia reminded herself. Mia and her mother and Ms. Jackson for sure told her what I did.
Mrs. Atwood flashed Lucretia a smile on her way out.
Victim and criminal were alone.
Lucretia remained at the door. Staring at Mia, like the other kids. Talking about her, like the other kids, except her conscience was the mouth, tongue-tied, inarticulate. Her meagre vocabulary boiled down to a single thought: Just do it, chicken!
Paring herself from the linoleum, Lucretia shuffled toward the row of desks in a wide arc, simultaneously avoiding and gravitating toward the back row. Her eyes never left Mia, who busied herself with her tangerine. As she drew reluctantly closer, Lucretia was afforded a profile view of the baseball cap—a major topic of gossip—that never left Mia's head. Having reached the beginning of the back row, she then trudged the never-ending trudge toward her ill-placed desk at the very end.
Each timid step brought her closer to Mia.
Each fearful step brought her closer to the damned baseball cap . . . and what it hid.
Each outright terrified step packed more and more of Mia's citrusy snack into her nose.
Standing behind her chair, which sat behind her desk, which sat behind Mia, Lucretia wondered why Mia's mother—who had witnessed the unfortunate seating plan during several of her visits—allowed the criminal so close to her daughter.
Lucretia heard Mia's chewing slow, saw her back stiffen, growing uncomfortably aware of Lucretia's presence, and the lack of chair legs scraping against the floor.
Chicken! Chicken! CHICKEN!
She collapsed, rather than sat in, her poorly-assigned seat, and couldn't help but fall into the week-long habit of studying the bit of naked scalp visible under the rim of Mia's baseball cap. She memorized the bony ridges, the shallow pockets, the pronounced point where the skull met the spine, the precise number of pink and red bumps. She knew each of Mia's five beauty-marks intimately, and no matter how many times her eyes played with them, she couldn't settle upon a shape, pattern, or design. She believed that if the school day were longer, she would finally be able to count each terribly short bristle of thin hair.
A fresh burst of tangerine invaded Lucretia's nose. The odour divided itself: southbound, to her stomach, where it mixed with and churned breakfast; northbound, to the mysterious region of the brain where scent converted to imagery. There, she saw that bright June day, not too dissimilar from the little girl and boy outside. Did he catch her? she wondered. Is she crying?
Chicken! that other part of her taunted.
What if she doesn't believe me?
What if she screams and cries again?
What if she hits me?
Another burst of tangerine perspiration. This time Lucretia didn't see the little girl and boy, but another film entirely: the claustrophobic kindergarten playground; Mia clutching the back of her head, bawling in Ms. Jackson's arms; Lucretia trying her best not to join in on the bawling, but failing, trying to give back the long brunette strands of hair wrapped around her stubby fingers; Mia blaring her refusal; Lucretia covering her blubbering face, her snotty nose detecting something flowery, something fruity.
Yet another surge of Mia's tangerine, and Lucretia realized that Mia's envied, rope-like hair had been washed in tangerine-scented shampoo that day in June.
“I'm sorry.” Lucretia craved to be heard, perhaps even to be forgiven, and yet she didn't understand why Mia was turning to face her.
“For what?” Mia asked.
Lucretia couldn't believe the question more than the fact Mia was actually talking to her. Did she forget, too? Like Ms. Jackson? Does her mom remember?
Mia started to turn away.
The tangerine had completely assimilated with Lucretia's stomach contents, and out came a vomit of sorts: “I'm sorry for pulling your hair and for making you cry and for making all your hair fall out of your head and eyebrows and everyone talking about you and looking at you and not playing with you and making you not want to go outside and play . . .” As she purged, she saw the most peculiar thing: a smile. Mia had never looked so pretty. Lucretia thought Mia had been pretty on their last day as kindergartners, when she had asked if she'd like to play tag, but this was . . .
. . . beauty.
Lucretia sealed her spewing. She noted a sliver of pale orange flesh stuck between Mia's big teeth, somehow enhancing her beautiful smile.
“You didn't pull all my hair out, Luke,” Mia said, her voice tickled by a suppressed laugh.
Lucretia—“Luke” to her only friend, Mia—saw two of the girl before her. Both Mia's lost their beautiful smiles as they took Lucretia's hand, and asked her why she was crying.
“I thought I . . .” Tears drowned the thought. “I thought I pulled out all your hair when we played tag that time.”
“No,” Mia said, beautiful smile nowhere on her lips. “I was sick.”
“Sick? Like a cold?” Lucretia sniffled as if she bore the illness.
“I had leukemia,” Mia said, the word somewhat shaky on her tongue.
Lucretia tasted the foreign word. “Lu-Luke-Mia?” She beamed. “Luke-Mia? Like our names?”
Mia smiled another one of her rainbows, tangerine pulp and all. “I never thought of that.”
“Leukemia,” Mia corrected. “It's a bad sickness, but I don't got it anymore because the doctor gave me medicine, but the medicine makes your hair fall out. My mom is going to come to class one day soon, and help me and Mrs. Atwood tell everyone about it.”
On the one hand, Lucretia was relieved to be off the hook. On the other, she now wished she had been the cause of Mia's hair loss. “Is that why you don't want to go outside?” The regret of the inquiry came as swiftly as Mia's radiant smile faded.
“I want to, but I can't do too much stuff, like running. I don't like the way the other kids look at me, and stuff.” Now it was Lucretia's turn to wipe her duplicate self from Mia's brimming eyes.
The school bell rang, setting off an uproar outside.
Mrs. Atwood returned as if on cue. “You girls okay?” She hadn't noticed the swollen eyes. They smiled. “Mia, all good?” An extra smile from Mia.
Once again, Lucretia was gifted with the back of Mia's baseball-capped head, the way she would remain until the glancing and gossiping kids were summoned outside for more for-granted play. She leaned forward, and whispered each word louder than the next, for the rowdiness was racing up the steps. “If you want, I can play with you outside next recess.” She saw the beauty-marks closest to each of Mia's ears rise ever so slightly, and she knew her friend was smiling.
And though the children were screaming in the hallway—not the bad kind of screaming; not Mia's screaming—Lucretia caught Mia's whisper: “Maybe we can play tag.”
Alfredo spent a decade penning an eclectic bibliography of award-winning short and feature-length screenplays, before transitioning into the world of prose.
His work oftentimes explores the lives of everyday people who find themselves trapped in the complex labyrinth of physical, mental, and emotional illness and isolation, self-doubt and self-reflection, and must find a way--if any--to confront themselves and the world around them, in real and surreal settings.
Currently, several of his short fiction pieces are enjoying stays in multiple publications.
We chased each other in the alley
when the work day was done, and
marveled at the purple sky bleeding
behind church steeples.
We checked our horoscopes for
suggestions, checked our bank accounts
seldom. We wrote lists of
places to see,
things to do,
people to be.
We drank red wine to feel old pain,
pledged silently to stop picking at heartscabs.
We tucked dreams away into coat pockets,
for another time,
In 19A on a 6:40 flight,
I reach out of airplane windows,
map runway lights
hungry for answers.
I halt the blood-orange sun
as it dips behind clouds, dark and wispy,
and melts over the James.
We are dying
to be younger
C.B. Walshak is a Virginia-born writer, whose work has been published on Leopardskin & Limes, Q/A Poetry, and in Pamplemousse. She lives with her husband in Charlottesville, VA where she is currently working on her debut novel and pursuing a Masters in English.
A ring of chocolate milk
at the bottom of a glass draws a crowd
of ants from the next county.
I pour a confection of sugar water
and Borax into a bottlecap,
makeshift watering hole. The death-sweat
returns to the boy you fell in love with,
Augustine, but your wretched life
is only dear because you loved
the boy. When the ants meet on the mantle
in my study, they touch together
antennae as if shaking hands the way
you shook his perhaps, testing
the grip for callouses or tenderness.
Funny how first meetings make
a permanent impression. I once saw
a pair of houseflies mating
on the windowsill, their connection
slow as a data transfer from USB
to the port it’s docked in,
and thought about my parents. Outside,
the rock salt I sprinkled eats away
at the ice the snowmelt hardened into.
Cameron Morse was diagnosed with a glioblastoma in 2014. With a 14.6 month life expectancy, he entered the Creative Writing Program at the University of Missouri—Kansas City and, in 2018, graduated with an M.F.A. His poems have been published in numerous magazines, including New Letters, Bridge Eight, Portland Review and South Dakota Review. His first poetry collection, Fall Risk, won Glass Lyre Press's 2018 Best Book Award. His latest is Baldy (Spartan Press, 2020). He lives with his wife Lili and two children in Blue Springs, Missouri, where he serves as poetry editor for Harbor Review. For more information, check out his Facebook page or website.
The sky comes down
To the edge of bare rock
And all around
Filled with weather:
Clouds, cool breezes,
At the edge of a U-shaped canyon,
A stone amphitheater;
Sheer, sculpted cliffs
From a curved ridge of debris,
Towering over a broad lumbered valley
And miscellany of boulders.
In the magic of bracken, grass and water,
Hidden in woods dense and dark,
Ponderosa, Lodgepole pines, Douglas fir,
Dead-wood and downed-timber,
Tree-hanging lichen flourishes.
Tangled masses of green threads,
Long drapes--yellow to ochre
Wrought from coyote hair.
The burial ground of the first people
A sanctuary of bones.
Whirlwinds follow gusty squalls
Funnel in thunderstorms
And fire from lightning strikes.
The resulting conflagration
Burns until the mourning ends
so the dead may sleep undisturbed
As winter storms
And summer droughts
Wash over the forest like a sea.
Stephen Barile, a Fresno, California native, was educated in public schools, and attended Fresno City College, Fresno Pacific University, and California State University, Fresno. He is the former chairman of the William Saroyan Society, and a long-time member of the Fresno Poet’s Association. Mr. Barile taught writing at Madera Center Community College, lives and writes in Fresno. His poems have been published extensively, including Metafore Magazine, New Plains Review, The Heartland Review, Rio Grande Review, The Packinghouse Review, Undercurrents, The Broad River Review, The San Joaquin Review, Haight-Ashbury Literary Journal, Beginnings, Pharos, and Flies, Cockroaches, and Poets.